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Tri-Cities education professor earns Faculty Diversity Award

Eric J. Johnson, WSU Tri-CitiesRICHLAND, Wash. – A commitment to community outreach and inclusion led to the selection of education professor Eric J. Johnson at Washington State University Tri-Cities as the recipient of WSU’s 2013 Faculty Diversity Award.
The award recognizes distinctive and outstanding teaching, research, creative work, service or outreach by faculty that advances diversity in the university and the communities it serves. As the sixth recipient of the annual award — and the first representing WSU Tri-Cities  — Johnson will be honored during the Celebrating Excellence Recognition Banquet on March 29 in Pullman, part of WSU’s annual Showcase celebration of faculty, staff and student excellence.
“Dr. Johnson has had a significant impact on diversity at WSU through his scholarship, his outstanding teaching and his outreach activities, which have encouraged high school students to become first-generation university students,” WSU Provost Warwick Bayly said. “He truly is deserving of this year’s Faculty Diversity Award.”
Johnson is assistant professor in the College of Education’s Department of Teaching and Learning, with research specializing in language policy and planning, the application of policy, immigrant communities and bilingual education. He is the Latino community liaison for WSU Tri-Cities — a key part of the effort to earn the federal Hispanic-Serving Institution (H.S.I.) designation.
Hands-on advocacy
Johnson is known for his tireless work as an educator, recruiter and supporter of first-generation students and non-native English-speaking students and their families. He volunteers as a translator for Spanish-speaking parents during parent-teacher conferences at Ochoa Middle School in Pasco. He serves on the Tri-Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce as the chair of the education outreach committee.
“It is rare to find a faculty member who personifies all the qualities we aspire to when making our campus truly minority-friendly,” said Elizabeth “Liza” Nagel, assistant vice chancellor for professional programs at WSU Tri-Cities.
Johnson earned his Ph.D. in sociocultural/linguistic anthropology at Arizona State University and joined WSU Tri-Cities in 2008. In January, he was recognized as the faculty recipient of WSU’s 2013 Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Award.
“In four years, he has single-handedly doubled the enrollment of students in the coursework leading to an endorsement in English language learning/bilingual education,” Nagel said. “He is known to be a teacher who demands quality performance from his students. He is constantly finding new ways to make his coursework more relevant.”
Building authentic relationships
“The Faculty Diversity Award is particularly important because it is symbolic of the overall dedication of WSU Tri-Cities faculty, staff and administration to enhancing educational access for students from first-generation and minority backgrounds,” Johnson said. “This award also reflects the heroic efforts of our current and past first-generation college students who have persevered through countless social and academic obstacles to attain a college education.”
Johnson noted that the Tri-Cities is a culturally and linguistically diverse area. Students of color make up 26.5 percent of WSU Tri-Cities enrollment, making the urban campus in Richland the most diverse campus in the WSU system.
But “diversity” should be seen as encompassing a variety of background experiences, he said.
“Regardless of representing cultural, linguistic, physical ability, sexual or socioeconomic diversity, collaborating with individuals from diverse backgrounds exposes us to different worldviews and heightens our understanding of how to relate to each other,” he said. “Viewing individuals from diverse backgrounds as a resource is a necessary step towards leveling the historically structured and socially ingrained misperceptions that continue to dissuade many students from pursuing a higher education.”
Johnson’s advice for others who want to support diversity is to get out of the office, meet people where they’re at and help them navigate the process of higher education.
“Supporting diversity and inclusion is fundamentally about building authentic relationships with students and families,” Johnson said.
About WSU Showcase
In addition to the awards banquet, WSU Showcase includes the Distinguished Faculty Address on March 28 plus the Academic Showcase display of faculty, staff and student work and SURCA, the Showcase for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities, on March 29. Showcase reservations are being accepted at through March 20.
About WSU Tri-Cities
WSU Tri-Cities is located along the scenic Columbia River in Richland, Wash. Established in 1989 with upper division and graduate programs, WSU Tri-Cities expanded in 2007 to a four-year undergraduate campus offering 18 bachelor’s, 10 master’s and six doctoral degree programs. Learn about the most diverse campus in the WSU system at

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